Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Lucky Lucchese Memories

by Rick Marschall

“Have you lived here all your life?” “Not yet,” is the answer packing the most optimism. 

“Yesterday’s Papers” and “A Crowded Life” are dots I intentionally connect here. I have sort of chosen to live in the past, as a trained historian and collector of vintage and nostalgic pieces of days agone; and as someone who sometimes forgets what I’m supposed to do tomorrow.

A couple of artifacts have bubbled to the surface as I try yet again to sort my collection, currently seven storage units and every room of the house, sigh. It was fun to find some materials from my first Lucca Comics Salon in Italy. Lucca was the world’s prototypic comics festival. Its first year was in Bordighera; Angouleme in France grew larger, as did San Diego; and it split for awhile, like an amoeba, with a rival event in Rome. But Lucca is Lucca.

It is a small city or large Medieval village, a commune inside a complete ancient wall, in Tuscany, close to Florence, Pisa, and Heaven. I keep threatening, here, to tell more of Lucca, and I will – but Where to start? how to organize my tales? The first year I attended was 1978, and it already was the 13th “salon.” I attended thereafter in unbroken succession, usually as guest, juror, speaker, or exhibitor, or all of those, as well as American representative, for many years.

The festivals were like family reunions, only seeing the world’s great historians and critics who gathered there; and, eventually, where I met the world’s greatest cartoonists. Many of the great friendships and “connections” I have today were forged at Lucca, so you can understand my affection.

It all seems like yesterday, but these materials from my “first date,” 1978, are more than half my life ago. Our mind’s memories are merciful, however, when the ancient past can  seem fresh.

I will quickly share some incidents. I attended in 1978 partly as an emissary of Marvel Comics, where I was an Editor involved in the creation of what became EPIC Magazine. I convinced Stan Lee that I could scout European talent there, and indeed I made contacts with cartoonists who appeared in the magazine.

One was a Bosnian cartoonist living in Zagreb, Croatia, named Mirko Ilić. His work blew me away – detailed, a great sense of design, and a unique manner of depicting unfolding narratives. Evocations of darkness and doom and, in lighter moments, irony. His work appeared in the first issue of EPIC; and soon Mirko himself was appearing the United States.

Mirko became Art Director of TIME International, and of the op-ed pages of The New York Times. He opened a studio and has become a major figure in American art, design, and graphics. He has specialized in designing visual “identities” and motifs for major hotels and restaurants; collaborated with Milton Glaser on the title sequence for the movie You’ve Got Mail; and has co-authored books on design with the great Steven Heller. After I left the Illustration Department and moved to California, Mirko became a Professor in its Masters program; I wish we had overlapped.

The sketch he drew for me displayed his thematic preoccupation, at least of emotional content and style. The strip was a typical page of his that showcased his ironic outlook on life. It is from the exhibition and catalog of his work at Lucca. The other cartoonist so showcased was his fellow Yugoslav (this was pre-“Fall”) Ivica Bednjanec.

The late Ivica, sadly little known in the West, surely was Croatia’s most prolific and beloved cartoonist. He created many characters and series for children and adults; in comic and semi-serious styles; and wrote his own works. In a sketch he caricatured me as a marshal (not surprisingly), rudely treating his popular character of the time, Gentle the convict.

Speaking of caricatures, I met up at that Lucca with an (already) old friend, Peter Maresca. This was long before Peter became a lord of Silicon Valley and publisher of the great Sunday Press line of reprint books. But he was into collecting and curating vintage Sunday comic pages. His sales of these sheets each year paid for his travel and seeded a generation of Europeans’ appreciation of classic American strips.

As at book fairs like Frankfurt and Bologna, most of the business and all of the fraternizing at Lucca happened at grand three-hour meals; and far into the night at the bars and lounges of hotels (I had meals in America; I learned to dine in Italy and France). Will Eisner used to say that he and I saw each other more often in Europe, at such venues, than in America; and so it was with Peter. In my haze one night I drew a caricature of Peter enjoying a grappa or amaro. To prove I am an equal-opportunity mangler of likenesses, I also show a self-caricature from the same sketchbook page. Also, here, a photo at Peter’s table with Michel LaBelle and Eric Leguebe of Paris; Maurice Horn; myself; and Peter. I think 1980; Peter clean-shaven.

Yes, more than half a lifetime ago. After a stretch where I produced some reprint books (Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, Polly and Her Pals; and titles like Popeye, Little Orphan Annie, and Red Barry for Fantagraphics) Peter eventually went pro with his Sunday Press reprint volumes. Major works like the brand-new Milt Gross volume, and obscure gems like White Boy and The Upside-Downs have received their due. Splendid work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I refer to books of the SP dimensions, and I have done a couple myself, as “Maresca Format.”

It is a famous aphorism that “Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” where generals contended as youths. It might be said that much of comics scholarship and reprints was hatched in the commune of Lucca – or, to risk a pun – in the lounges of Lucca and the eatin’ spots too.

– 30 –


Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

⭐ Christmas In Toonerville

by Rick Marschall

Fontaine Fox had one of the most distinctive drawing styles in American cartoon history. It changed little through the years; in his early days in Louisville and Chicago, he bucked the trend of cartoonists who often drew with details and crosshatch-shading. His work was not minimalist, exactly, but handsomely streamlined, clean, uncomplicated.

He drew humor cartoons, political cartoons (Republican, anti-Progressive), and book illustrations. He illustrated an arts-and-crafts book for Volland in Chicago; and two of Ring Lardner’s early books. Syndicate pioneer John Wheeler, whom I knew, liked Fox’s work and syndicated Toonerville Folks (through the Wheeler Syndicate and the Bell Syndicate) from 1913 until Fox retired in 1955.

Toonerville Folks was the formal title of the daily panel and the Sunday page. But most people knew his work by the iconic trolley and the town-full of characters he created: The Toonerville Trolley That Meets All Trains; Mickey (Himself) McGuire; The Powerful Katrinka; The Terrible-Tempered Mr Bang; Asthma Simpson; et al.

For the run of that feature, Fox’s work took on its most characteristic aspects – characters with large heads and wispy bodies; a slight bird’s-eye view of all scenes; dialog lettering floating without benefit of speech balloons; occasional circles instead of panel-squares or rectangles; and the oddest genre scenes since Bruegel – random characters reacting, kibitzing, smiling at the reader. A glorified stick-figure world.

His creation was wildly popular, more in small-town papers than big cities, for that is the world he re-created. The feature inspired reprint books, cartoons, movie shorts, a now-collectible tin wind-up toy, and other licensing and merchandising. The son of comedian Joe Yule starred in Toonerville movies as a kid – and, enjoying success as Mickey (Himself McGuire), took the stage name of Mickey Rooney instead of Joe Yule, Jr.

Fox himself was as wiry and wizened as one of his characters, with a white moustache that flapped as he talked. But the curmudgeon persona was a pose: he really was kindly and friendly and warm.

At the end of his life Fontaine Fox split his time between Greenwich, Connecticut and Delray Beach, Florida. After his retirement and death I got know his assistant, then retired too, Arthur Clark of Stamford, which is the next train stop up from Greenwich. He shared stories, artwork, memories, and trivia (such as knowing when a drawing was Fox’s, and not the assistant’s, there would be precisely seven diagonal lines over the “F Fox”).

I visited him often, and would never ask for original art or memorabilia, but he did make gifts or trades of some things. Once I made the mistake of telling Art Wood about him, and before two days had passed, Art called him and sweet-talked him out of most of his archives.

Art Wood had a way of doing that, as persuasive as a successful used-car salesman. Many, many cartoonists told me a similar story – that they sent their life’s work to Art, and after the fact wondered how or why. In the beginning he pledged that things would wind up in a museum in Washington DC. When I went to college in DC I got to know Art well and he recounted this story with a wink; and “his” collection was enormous.

Eventually, and ironically, he actually did open a museum – not with the National Cartoonists Society, which by then fielded complaints from cartoonists who thought they had been snookered – but via a foundation he set up. I eventually was President of that Museum and Gallery, and sat on the board of the Foundation. Its own foundations were not solid, and I will share that story, here, down the road. One episode I recall concerns the original Buster Brown page where the Yellow Kid appeared as a character. It was displayed prominently in the Gallery, and I learned when I met R F Outcault’s daughter (yes!) that she loaned it to Art for a show and despite many pleas for its return, it remained in his collection.

Back to Mr Clark. At an earlier time he traded me some pieces he said he knew I would appreciate. There were sketches, Christmas cards, and one panel each of the Toonerville characters, all by Fox.

I share here a letter that Fox wrote before he moved to Greenwich, when Manhasset, on Long Island, was his northern pied à terre, or whatever they called it back in Kentucky. He explained to the designer of the Dutch Treat Club’s annual program book why he missed a deadline. Of most interest is Fox’s whimsical letterhead – revealing, for the first time many fans might see, the actual name of the Trolley skipper: Dan Withers. Silas Tooner was owner of the line.

Then… ‘tis the season. A random group of Fox’s Christmas cards. He sent these out, sometimes as post cards, always hand-colored, to friends.

Don’t let the “humbug” scowl fool you in the auto-portraits. The old Fox was spry and kindly to the end, great fun, and with a twinkle in the eye that his simple pen lines could not quite capture.


 – 30 –


Friday, December 18, 2020

Bear with Me (it's been a rough day) –

   A Short Conversation with Bob Scott     

by John Adcock

Bob Scott’s second hardcover book Bear with Me (it’s been another hard day) is taking pre-orders for a publication date of Winter 2021 at Hermes Press HERE. I had a short and amiable conversation with Bob about his career. Bob Scott, says Hermes promotional page, “was born in Detroit, Bob began drawing at a young age, copying what he saw in the funny pages. Acceptance and graduation from California Institute of the Arts opened the world of character animation for Bob. He has worked over 35 years in the industry as an animator, character designer, storyboard artist and voice talent.”

Q. You began by copying from the funny pages. Did you have any particular favorites or influences?

I read Doonesbury and Bloom County avidly in high school and college. I was hooked on Garfield as well. I loved the Hanna-Barbera newspaper strips (Yogi Bear/The Flintstones) drawn by Gene Hazelton. Pogo by Walt Kelly, Quincy by Ted Shearer and Eek and Meek by Howie Schneider have all influenced my work.  

Q. Was your first related work experience in comics or in animation? Before or in California?

In my second year at Cal Arts my friend got me a week of work at DIC doing layouts for the Get Along Gang, a show best forgotten. As a junior in college, I landed a freelance job for Disney on a Sport Goofy TV special as a full-fledged animator. Working on Sport Goofy was such a great experience, I still work with Darrell Van Citters, the director, as often as possible.  In fact, I recently worked for him on season 4 of The Tom and Jerry Show. My senior year at college I spent working full time instead of attending classes.  I did all of my student work at night.

I worked at Marvel Animation drawing characters on the animated Muppet Babies show.  Stan Lee had an office in the building and a huge sculpture of Spider-Man hung over the studio entrance.  I did assistant animation work on Don Bluth’s An American Tail. Ah, those Bluth mouth shapes still haunt me.  

While in college I convinced the local paper, The Newhall Signal, to run my own weekly comic strip, Myron.  This arrangement lasted until I graduated. 

Upon graduation, I went to work for Jim Davis in Muncie, Indiana. Brett Koth and I were hired to co-pencil Jim’s comic strip US Acres.  I loved working with Jim and his crew, and Brett is still a great friend and inspiration to me. (He’s gone on to create the hilarious syndicated comic strip Diamond Lil.) My brand-new wife, Vicki, was hired on to draw Garfield licensing art which was great; our desks were next to each other!  What newlyweds get to work so closely together?  

I guess you could say that I’ve always had my foot in both the worlds of animation and comic strips. 

Q. Did the work on US Acres inspire your own Molly and the Bear? Was that your first idea? Oh, and why did you change the title to Bear with Me?

I attempted many other strips before Bear with Me. After college I submitted a strip to the syndicates about a suicidal dog! Gee, I wonder why that didn’t sell. Ha! Ha! What was I thinking? 

As a matter of fact, my new book has a section with samples of my past submissions. There are some doozies.

US Acres has definitely inspired my work on Bear with Me. I learned a lot from working with Jim and Brett. How to stage a comic strip, pace a gag and funny word choices. Both Jim and Brett’s writing inspires me to this day!

As the strip evolved the cast has grown. Molly has school friends and Bear spends time annoying Dad. It felt like a title that better described the strip. Also, it puts the strip higher up on the list in alphabetical order on GoComics. I gained more subscribers after the name change. I might add an Aardvark next! 

Q. Your last book was published in March 2016, the new collection in Winter 2021. Should we look for a third volume five years from now?

Yes! It’s been 5 years since the last book and honestly it is hard for me to believe. I need to draw faster so that I have enough strips for a third book sooner. Ha! Ha! If only I could work on my strip full-time. The day job pays the bills, though.


See also Molly and the Bear from Jan 19, 2009 HERE

Read Bear with Me at GoComics HERE 

Pre-order Bear with Me HERE




Friday, December 11, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 Remembering a Comics Magazine That Never Was

by Rick Marschall

You see before you an issue of GROG, The International Comics Magazine.

Dated September of 1976, it is one the rarest items in the genre. Since it only existed as a prototype – and never published – there are but a handful of copies that ever existed. The preceding has been a tease. But the whole story of the Comics Magazine That Never Was is an episode in a Crowded Life that involved some of the unlikeliest figures in comics to collaborate. Up to a point.

In publishing, a successful venture usually happens at the ratio of 10 or 20 legitimately terrific other concepts that die stillborn; perhaps that is the case in all fields of endeavor. So GROG never went anywhere outside the long-term dreams and short-lived operations of memorable friends.

In 1975 I was hired as Comics Editor at Publishers Newspaper Syndicate in Chicago – the aggregation of other syndicate operations – Field Enterprises, the Sun-Times Syndicate, Hall Syndicate, Post-Hall, Publishers Syndicate Inc,  Adcox Associates, and possibly some others I have forgotten. Through wise stewardship and a manic acquisitive appetite, the outfit had become the second-largest syndicate in the… field.

Our stable of comics included BC, The Wizard of Id, Dennis the Menace, Steve Canyon, recently Pogo, Miss Peach, Momma, Grin and Bear It, Steve Roper, Mary Worth, Kerry Drake, Apartment 3-G, Rex Morgan, Judge Parker, Big George, and a passel of smaller quality strips and panels. Jules Feiffer, Bill Mauldin, and Herblock.

When I was offered this job, created for me (there had been no Comics Editor previously), I was also offered the job of Assistant Comics Editor at King Features Syndicate in New York, which also would have been a new position; but essentially to be understudy of Sylvan Byck, long-time Comics Editor there. An interesting and excruciating dilemma for me. But I headed to Chicago.

Dick Sherry was the president, a former Promotion Manager whose interest in foreign comics was marked by two qualities. One: he had wide-ranging tastes; he knew about comics and cartoonists in many countries; he was impressed that I had contributed major portions of Maurice Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics. His other motivation as a connoisseur of international comics and cartooning talent was – I soon became convinced – a cheap means of scratching his itch to travel, which he did, twice a year. He declared it necessary to his superiors in the Marshall Field hierarchy that he scout for talent; and that he visit foreign contributors on their turfs.

The result? No screaming successes. We tried making Asterix a daily strip. We ran a daily panel scribbled by England’s Mel Calman. We launched the Australian strip Fingers and Foes. We tried several creations of Denmark’s Werner Wejp-Olsen (I never let on that I know the “secret” that his strips were written, badly, by Sherry himself).

But a positive result of his semi-larcenous internationalism was the idea for an international comics magazine, an American version of Linus, Eureka, the first Charlie, and other Italian and French magazines. A magazine of native and imported content; reprints; interviews and features. I was familiar with the European magazines and that “scene” (many of my 60+ trips to Europe have been to comics festivals and book fairs); and frankly Sherry’s description of this proposed magazine was a major appeal of the job.

How the magazine would come together was, or would have been, unique. I would have been the Editor (I’m sure Sherry would have reserved the Foreign Correspondent duties for himself, at least partly). The other partners, or investors – such details are foggy after, gulp, 45 years, until I find my old files – were Johnny Hart and Stan Lee.

Yes, probably the only time their names appeared in the same sentence. The working title (appropriately random and only vaguely germane) was to be GROG after the strange beast in BC whose only word was a resounding “Grog!” He would have been the magazine’s “mascot.” Johnny loved this idea despite being largely clueless about foreign comics – he just loved the idea of spreading the gospel of comics.

Johnny Hart had serial enthusiasms, God bless his memory; and he was passionate about them all. Of course Wiz followed BC; and his buddy Brant Parker with Johnny over his shoulder launched Crock. Johnny once visited the office with someone with whom he wanted to collaborate on another strip – and this will be the first time you will see these two names in the same sentence: Johnny Hart and Henny Youngman. It never happened, of course, but Johnny’s interest (in, um, non-BC humor) is what made him the quintessence of Cool.

Marvel Comics would have been the co-producer and publisher/distributor. This is how I met Stan Lee – the many meetings in Chicago and New York; the brainstorming – and Stan of course was known as the human pinwheel, forever throwing off sparks of ideas, variations, spinoffs, new concepts, different themes, partners, and out-of-left-field projects. God bless his memory.

I share here the cover of the dummy issue, and some interiors. It was a true proposal; type was greeking; headlines were of generic titles to display the range of topics; runs of strips “foreign and domestic” were laid out; even ads were placed. I remember suggesting that we could maximize interest and profits by separating the magazine in blocs, with partner countries providing insert-sections for their own content.

On the basis of our contacts and discussions, I remained close to Stan and he hired me a year or two later to edit the magazine line at Marvel. He gifted me one day with his prototype of GROG, out of his files, and had earmarked my undiplomatic suggestion, among scores I trotted out, that the magazine could commission Joe Brancatelli to write an article criticizing contemporary superheroes. What was I thinking?

I cannot remember whether GROG came up in the early discussions with Stan when EPIC was conceived and planned. It was different, of course, but maybe not that different (Stan did send me to hunt talent in Europe, and early issues had international content). I was EPIC’s first Editor.

Through it all – what happened, did not happen, and what almost happened – I have one dummy issue, and a ton of memories. Remember that ratio, of 10 or 20 concepts for every one that happened. At least I can claim to be the “dummy,” so to speak, at the center of a unique dummy issue in comics history.